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Q. How does the Athena team choose the names for the various rock targets, craters, etc. on Mars?

A. John Grotzinger, Athena Science Team member from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offers the following:

“In picking the names of significant rock targets, we try to follow a theme. Beginning with Adirondack (first rock at Gusev) we chose names that related to significant topographic features that local populations could identify with. This included Stone Mountain (Georgia) which was the first rock we analyzed by Opportunity. Then, we moved on to El Capitan, Guadalupe, McKittrick, and Last Chance which are significant peaks and valleys in the Guadalupe national park in west Texas. After the rocks, we spent several days analyzing the soils at Eagle crater, which we named mostly after different types of sweets and desserts (Neopolitan, Fudge, etc.).

“The first rock outside of Eagle crater (Bounce Rock) was identified over a month ago, and named because the lander bounced across it as it rolled into Eagle crater. Now that we're there, we are paying a tribute to our European colleagues by selecting a whole series of names which reflect their favorite parts of Germany, France and Denmark (Lorelei, Eifel, etc.). On the plains at Meridiani, we have chosen waypoints for Opportunity to travel to which have historical significance. Our first waypoint is Anatolia, the Greek name for the plains of Asia minor.

“The crater names are chosen by Steve Squyres and Jim Rice and reflect major lakes on Earth (Gusev site) and ships of exploration (Meridiani site).”

Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars Rover mission adds: “None of these names are ‘official’ in any sense. Selecting the official names of features like craters on other planets is the purview of the International Astronomical Union. None of our names — including the names of the craters — are official IAU names. They are simply names that we have chosen out of necessity for use within the team during the mission. Unless you have some names to use for the things you’re looking at and driving by, things get pretty confusing.“

Q. Where can I find blueprints of the Mars Rover?

A. Rover dimensions are: 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) high by 2.3 meters (7.5 feet) wide by 1.6 meters (5.2 feet) long. We are not able to release blueprints of the rovers due to ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations). These regulations state that information which is required for the design, development, or production of “defense articles” remain classified. There are 21 categories of “defense articles,” including a category for “Spacecraft and Associated Equipment.”

Q. What is the object in the Pancam panorama at Meridiani Planum?

A. Rob Manning, the Entry Descent and Landing Manager for the Mars Exploration Rover Project, offers the following comment about the object:

"The Entry, Descent, and Landing team believes that this odd-looking feature is a piece of soft material that definitely came from our vehicle. We cannot say exactly where it came from but we can say that there are several possibilities: cotton insulation, Vectran covers and wraps from the airbag, Zylon bridle tensioning ties, or felt insulation from the gas generators... the list goes on. We do not think this is parachute material, however, due to its color (it does not look blue enough to be the undyed nylon or red enough to be the dyed nylon). Knowing the possibility that we could have left a bit of a mess nearby, once we saw this feature we only marveled at how clean everything looked and we have not given it another thought. (We found bits of Kapton tape just a few feet away from the Mars Pathfinder lander in '97). We try to make sure that bits do not fall off, but it does, and we were not at all surprised."

Joy Crisp, Mars Exploration Rover Project Scientist, adds this comment:

"We don't think that the rover ran over it. However, from a careful inspection of all the images we have taken, it appears that the wind may have been blowing the object around the landing site."

Q. Is the MER mission supposed to find life and/or water?

A. The rovers' scientific instruments will examine martian geology to search for evidence regarding liquid water and climate in the planet's past. This information will help to reveal how suitable past conditions would have been for life.

Q. Where can I find MER mission paraphernalia?

A. You can find MER merchandise at the JPL Store.

Q. How long will the MER mission last?

A. Each MER rover is expected to operate for at least 90 "sols", or martian days. However, dust on the solar arrays and other variables could change the length of time the rovers operate on the martian surface.

Q. Why can't a brush or wiper system be implemented on the rovers to clean the solar arrays and lengthen the life of the mission?

A. The solar arrays are fairly large and, subsequently, the brushes or wipers would also have to be large. A brush or wiper system would require too much mass and probably wouldn't do a very good job of getting rid of martian dust. The particles are only about 1-2 micrometers in size.

Q. What sort of solar panels are being used for the rovers?

A. The rovers use three-layer solar cells made of gallium indium phosphorus, gallium arsenide, and germanium.

Q. Do the Mars Exploration Rovers have names?

A. Yes. NASA conducted an essay contest to name them. The winner was Sofi Collis, a 9 year old from Scottsdale, AZ. She announced the winning names — Spirit and Opportunity — with NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe on June 8, 2003.

Q. Will information be sent to Earth during the entry, descent and landing phase of the mission?

A. The spacecraft will transmit information during the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) process. For part of the time, engineering data will be relayed through the Mars Global Surveyor. At other times, data will be sent directly to Earth using simple "tones" when each important event takes place during the EDL sequence.

Q. If there is water ice on Mars, can it be imaged by the Microscopic Imager?

A. Water ice is unlikely to be found close enough to the martian surface to be seen by the Athena science instruments because the rovers will land near the equator of Mars where the Sun heats the ground and would cause any water ice to evaporate. However, if there is water ice near the surface, then the MI should be able to image it.

Q. What is the resolution of the MI?

A. The resolution is 30 micrometers per pixel. This means that sand-sized grains (0.1 mm diameter or larger) will be resolved.

Q. Will there be any meteorological instrumentation on the Athena payload?

A. No.

Q. How did you select the name "Athena" for your science payload?

A. Athena is not an acronym. It is the name of the Greek goddess of wisdom. She was also a goddess of war, and the female counterpart to Ares (Mars).

Q. Why twin rovers? Why not let the rovers have different designs?

A. There are several practical advantages to making the two rovers identical. One of them involves building parts. If the designs are the same, it makes it easier to have the appropriate spare parts on hand if we need them. Another reason for twin rovers involves the testing process. If we had two different designs, many design tests would have to be performed twice. Keeping the rovers identical saves time in a tight schedule.

Q. Where can I find information about preparations for a manned mission to Mars?

A. Try these websites: and

Q. Where can I find technical specifications on MER or the specific components of MER?

A. Most of the rover's technical specifications are not available to the public at this time. However, you can find some information at the MER Press Kit. Technical briefings about each of the rover's science instruments can be found on individual instrument pages on this site.